Skip to content

Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: San Diego Chargers

AP

The 2013 Chargers earned the AFC’s final wild card berth on the final day of the regular season, and were they ever the definition of a wild card.

Of the Chargers’ seven losses a season ago, six were by one score or less. They were 5-2 against playoff clubs but a mere 4-5 against also-rans, including defeats to Oakland, Washington and Houston.

But in the end, San Diego got hot at the right time, winning four in a row to end the regular season. Then, in the postseason, the Chargers proved they belonged, upsetting the favored Bengals in Cincinnati and putting up a fight in a loss at Denver in the divisional round.

In all, it was a successful first season for Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, who oversaw a club that always seemed to give itself a chance to win. And was it ever a splendid return to top form for quarterback Philip Rivers, who again looked like one of the best in his profession.

In some ways, the Chargers might have been ahead of schedule a season ago. The question is, what growth are they capable of this time around?

Strengths.

The Chargers’ offense is formidable. Rivers was fun to watch in 2013, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and ranking near the top of the NFL in passing yards gained per attempt (8.2). He was sacked 19 fewer times in 2013 than in the previous campaign (30 vs. 49), which speaks well of McCoy’s scheme and the work of the offensive line, which stepped up its play.

No team was better on third downs than the Chargers, and no quarterback may have been better than Rivers in such situations. Per STATS LLC, Rivers converted first downs on a league-high 49.4 percent of his passing attempts (77-of-156).

Rivers has multiple capable targets. Second-year wide receiver Keenan Allen starred as a rookie, hauling in 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, four TDs) is a key security blanket for Rivers, as is tailback Danny Woodhead (76 catches, 605 yards, six TDs). Wide receivers Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal and tight end Ladarius Green will also get their shots to contribute, too.

The Chargers’ running game is no slouch, either. Lead back Ryan Mathews racked up 1,255 yards a season ago in a career-best campaign. Ex-Colt Donald Brown gives San Diego another starter-caliber rusher behind Mathews. In addition to his pass catching, Woodhead can chip in a few carries per game.

Finally, the Chargers’ defense appears stronger than a season ago. Free safety Eric Weedle is a standout, while ex-Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers could be just what the secondary needs. Defensive end Corey Liguet (12.5 combined sacks in the last two seasons), inside linebacker Donald Butler and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram are nice defensive foundation pieces for now and the future.

Weaknesses.

The Chargers allowed more yards per rush and per pass than any other AFC a team a season ago. Even if San Diego’s defense is better — and it should be, with Flowers arriving and Ingram and Dwight Freeney returning from injury-shortened campaigns — this isn’t a shutdown group by any stretch.

The play of the outside linebackers will be key for the Chargers. Liguet (5.5 sacks) paced the club in sacks in 2013, with fellow end Kendall Reyes finishing second with five sacks. For a club employing a 3-4 base scheme like San Diego, the outside ‘backers must generate some pressure off the edges.

On offense, the play of the Chargers’ line still bears some monitoring, even after the improvements made a season ago.

Changes.

The Chargers’ most important changes could come in the secondary, where Flowers and first-round pick Jason Verrett should bolster the cornerback corps. Those additions came after the club cut ties with corner Derek Cox, who struggled in his lone season in San Diego.

The Chargers have a new offensive coordinator, with Frank Reich replacing Ken Whisenhunt, who became the Titans’ head coach. San Diego has also made a change at backup quarterback, with Kellen Clemens (ex-St. Louis) signing on to replace Charlie Whitehurst, who followed Whisenhunt to Tennessee.

The Chargers’ RB depth chart is a little more crowded with the addition of Donald Brown, who led the Colts in rushing a season ago. He effectively replaces Ronnie Brown as one of the club’s top three backs.

Camp battles.

Several positions bear watching:

—   Right guard: Incumbent Jeromey Clary comes off shoulder and hip surgery; can third-round pick Chris Watt push him for the job?

—   Cornerback: Flowers, Verrett and holdovers Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall are the top four options at the position. Flowers seems likely to garner a major role, but how quickly will Verrett adjust to the NFL game?

—   Running back: How will the reps be split between Mathews, Woodhead and Brown?

—   Nose tackle: Sean Lissemore, Ryan Carrethers and Kwame Geathers are among the options. Cam Thomas, one of the regulars at the position a season ago, signed with Pittsburgh.

—   Outside linebacker: There could be some healthy competition here, with Ingram, Freeney, Larry English, Jarret Johnson, Thomas Keiser and rookie Jeremiah Attaochu all in the mix for work.

Prospects.

The Chargers’ schedule is both inviting and challenging, with the biggest tests right out of the gate and down the stretch.

The Chargers begin with a pair of challenging out-of-conference games at Arizona and vs. Seattle. A 0-2 start is quite possible, given the degree of difficulty of those matchups.

Then comes a five-game run that could ultimately make or break the Chargers’ season. The next five opponents — the Bills (away), Jets (home), Jaguars (home), Raiders (away) and Chiefs (home) — are all conference opponents ranked behind San Diego in PFT’s preseason power rankings. Here’s a chance for the Chargers to stack up some important AFC wins — and they must do so.

Similarly, the Chargers need to make hay in the early part of November. They begin the month at Miami (Nov. 2), then take their bye. Then comes home games vs. Oakland (Nov. 16) and St. Louis (Nov. 23). The Chargers may have to sweep this three-game stretch, considering their next five games — their final of the campaign — are at Baltimore, home vs. New England, home vs. Denver, at San Francisco and at Kansas City.

In all, the schedule seems a perfect test for the Chargers. If their offense remains potent and efficient, and if their defense has improved, the Chargers could get rolling, and they could prove a challenging matchup for anyone, even those strong outfits they face in the final weeks.

The Chargers didn’t blink in tough situations a season ago, which makes them all the more intriguing in 2014. But can they move forward? It probably comes down to whether they can get a few more stops on “D.” They are going to score their share of points.

Permalink 51 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, Los Angeles Chargers, Top Stories
yo

Larry Fitzgerald will talk post-2017 plans at training camp

Getty Images

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald spent a lot of time last year fielding questions about whether or not he planned to continue playing in 2017 and then took a little time after the end of the season before announcing that he’d return to the team.

The 2017 season hasn’t started yet, but the way last year played out makes it pretty likely that there are already plenty of people wondering about Fitzgerald’s plans for 2018. On Monday night, Fitzgerald said that the frequency of the questions last year grew tiresome and he plans to handle those queries differently than he did last season.

Fitzgerald said that he’ll discuss his future at training camp and only at training camp.

“I’m going to answer it one time, and I’m not even going to address it anymore,” Fitzgerald said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com.

It seems unlikely that Fitzgerald will field his final question on the topic in July unless his answer is unequivocal that he’s going to play in 2018. An answer that involves making a decision after the season will invite follow-ups as the season unfolds and a plan to retire would lead to questions about second thoughts along with weekly reminders that the end is getting close.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Washington “getting close” to a plan for replacing former G.M.

AP

Washington may be close to backfilling its personnel department, even if that doesn’t mean hiring a General Manager.

According to Liz Clarke of the Washington Post, team president Bruce Allen said they had met with more than a dozen candidates plus some internal scouts, and were nearing a decision.

We’re getting close to having a final plan,” Allen said. “It has been a good period. We’ve learned a lot about other strategies and structures around the league.”

They’ve been short-handed since firing G.M. Scot McCloughan in March, with Allen presiding over the franchise-tagging of Kirk Cousins and the draft.

So it’s reasonable to suggest they don’t feel a pressing need to have someone with the title McCloughan used to have.

Considering they’ve gone this far without one (and have two more years of contract to pay for McCloughan to not be G.M.) they could be looking for some alternatives which don’t suggest anyone having the power to nudge Allen out of the top spot.

Permalink 2 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Kentucky basketball hopeful has some NFL potential

Getty Images

Usually the Kentucky basketball players are all first-rounders, and usually after their first year.

But in the case of senior guard Dominique Hawkins, he might have a shot to go pro in another sport.

According to Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Hawkins might be a fringe NBA draft prospect whose basketball future lies overseas.

But the 6-foot- guard with a 44.5-inch vertical leap has also drawn some attention from NFL scouts, who are intrigued about his potential as a defensive back.

He was the state of Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2013 and a favorite of fans there, and Wildcats coach John Calipari called him “Old Reliable” during their tournament run (as opposed to all the “Young Temps” he usually recruits).

“He is a fierce competitor,” Calipari said of Hawkins in February. “He’s tough as nails. He will come up with [loose balls]. Any 50/50 ball, he’s getting. And offensively, he’s gotten better each year.”

Usually when an NFL team is thinking about conversion projects, it’s power forwards turned into tight ends. But while Hawkins might not be NBA caliber, football teams are going to turn over every rock in search of guys who can play.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

David Diehl visits the PFT Live studio on Tuesday

Getty Images

Tuesday’s PFT Live includes one of the new twists that debuted last week — a current or former player spending a full hour in studio.

Last week, it was Willie Colon on Tuesday and Brian Westbrook on Wednesday. This week, two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl, who played 11 years with the Giants, will visit the PFT Live studio for the final hour of the show.

For clarity, he’ll be in the Connecticut studio. If you saw any of Monday’s show, you know that the West Virginia studio barely fit Barstool Big Cat and PFT Commenter. There’s no way it would fit both me and Diehl. Or Diehl on his own.

We’ll be discussing a wide variety of topics, including a back-and-forth draft aimed at compiling our ideal offensive line. Join us at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN for Diehl’s visit.

Actually, join us at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and then on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Owners discussing timing change for coaching hires

AP

If some owners have their way, future Dan Quinns and Kyle Shanahans might not have to spend a Super Bowl week lying (or at least awkwardly hedging) about their plans for the following week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, owners will discuss a change to the timing of head-coaching hires, which would allow teams to agree to terms with a new coach after a second interview but not announce the hiring.

It’s actually a box of leftovers from the March meeting, when the needed rules change was proposed by the competition committee but not voted on. Atlanta has also sponsored the rule, having been on both sides of it.

Ostensibly, that would give teams more of a chance to rebuild coaching staffs in the wake of late departures caused by their own success. In recent years, the Seahawks and Falcons have had to wait before replacing Dan Quinn (to Atlanta) and Kyle Shanahan (to San Francisco) until their teams were finished with the Super Bowl.

But if it’s as simple agree-don’t-announce, that doesn’t really seem to change much, since both hirings were the worst-kept secrets of the Super Bowl weeks in question, and both hirings were foregone conclusions.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Jay Gruden thinks Chris Thompson is the NFL’s best third-down back

Getty Images

Washington coach Jay Gruden thinks he has the NFL’s best third-down back on his roster.

Chris Thompson, who had 68 carries for 356 yards and three touchdowns last season and added 49 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, is as good as it gets in the third-down role, according to Gruden.

“I think Chris Thompson’s role is big,” Gruden said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com. “When you’re talking about third downs, that’s the most important down in football. There’s nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He’s got a huge role on this football team.”

With rookie Samaje Perine joining last year’s top two rushers, Rob Kelley and Matt Jones, it would be easy to envision Thompson’s role being reduced. But Gruden sees Thompson having a key role.

Permalink 4 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

CBS producer believes Tony Romo will be the next John Madden

Getty Images

CBS is obviously quite excited about the addition of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to their broadcast booth.

The network is so happy to have him that Romo is going to get his first appearance in the booth during this weekend’s PGA Tour stop at the Dean and DeLuca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, CBS producer Lance Barrow announced at a gala for the tournament Monday night that Romo would make his CBS debut this week in the booth at the 18th hole.

In addition to announcing Romo’s foray on the network’s golf broadcast this weekend, Barrow made a lofty comparison in likening Romo to an NFL broadcasting legend.

I think he is going to be great,” Barrow said. “I think we have the next John Madden on your hands.”

Romo has yet to work a single NFL game, but in comparing Romo to Madden he’s setting an incredibly high standard for the newest member of the network’s announcing team.

After his coaching career was complete, Madden became the most recognizable NFL analyst on TV. Madden paired with Pat Summerall to form the No. 1 crew in NFL broadcasting, first working for CBS before moving to FOX in the mid-1990’s. His popularity continued to grow with the introduction of the Madden NFL game franchise.

Whether Romo could potentially ever reach Madden territory as a broadcaster is yet to be seen, but clearly CBS is incredibly bullish on their addition to their staff.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Michael Bennett, columnist, appear to bury hatchet after apology

Getty Images

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett threatened to boycott the Seattle Times after a column critical of Bennett appeared in the paper on Sunday.

While the column from writer Matt Calkins largely praised Bennett for his on-field performance, numerous charity endeavors and engaging personality, the piece primarily took issue with an incident that occurred in the locker room following Seattle’s playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons in January.

Bennett lashed out at a local TV reporter for asking a question about the team’s pass rush in the game and questioned what adversity had the reporter faced. What Bennett didn’t know at the time was that the reporter – Bill Wixey – had survived cancer. That incident, and Calkins’ belief that no apology had been given from Bennett to Wixey, was the prime point of contention for Calkins’ criticism.

But in a follow-up column on Monday, Calkins notes that he found out that Bennett had apologized to Wixey privately and he didn’t do the legwork on that before writing the story. Since the linchpin of the argument was incorrect, the rest of the premise the criticism was predicated upon wasn’t supported any longer. He apologized to Bennett for getting it wrong.

Part of my duty is to hold people accountable. That includes myself,” Calkins wrote.

Bennett appears to have accepted the apology from Calkins as well.

Although I was offended by your attacks on my character, I admire and respect your willingness to admit you were wrong about me,” Bennett wrote in a Twitter message directed at Calkins and the Times’ twitter accounts Monday night. “I care deeply for social causes, for our fans and I’m not afraid to make a stand even if it makes me unpopular at time I will continue to lead organically n staying true to what I feel is right I love this city n I love the people.”

While Bennett didn’t expressly say his plan to boycott the paper is off, it seems as though he’s willing to move beyond the issue.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Turner considers trying to get back into the NFL business

The NFL television landscape could change in plenty of ways come 2023. At at time when the ability of ESPN to continue to pay more than $2 billion per year to keep Monday Night Football, one of the league’s former broadcast partners could be trying to get back in.

Via Michael McCarthy of SportingNews.com, Turner Sports currently is exploring the possibility of making a bid on a piece of the TV rights. Of course, there’s a big difference between thinking about it and scraping together the cash necessary to make it happen.

Turner’s status as a cable channel limits its options, as a practical matter. The NFL realizes the value of placing prime-time games on broadcast TV, given that the three-letter networks still draw the maximum audience. Even with the proliferation of cable and Internet, millions still rely on the free signals broadcast through the public airwaves by NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX.

The Monday Night Football package would make the most sense for Turner, and the NFL may need to find a deep-pocketed partner to bid on the games, if ESPN ultimately won’t have the cash to continue to pay such a premium for the premier American sporting content.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

OBJ is a no-show for Day One of OTAs

Getty Images

Uh-oh, OBJ.

The Giants receiver, entering his fourth NFL season, skipped the first day of the team’s Organized Team Activities, according to Dan Duggan of NJ.com. Duggan says the reason for the absence isn’t known, and that it’s likewise unknown whether he’ll show up for any of the other nine OTA sessions.

The practices are voluntary, but as the on-field culmination of the offseason program they take on greater importance than other April-to-June workouts. With Beckham eligible for a new contract following the completion of his third season, it’s possible that he’s choosing to stay away in order to get paid.

The Giants have another OTA on Tuesday, and then again on Thursday. Thursday’s practice will be open to the media. Coach Ben McAdoo technically can’t say or do anything to suggest that presence is required; however, some coaches have a way of making their frustration known, private or publicly.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

O.J. Simpson will have July parole hearing

Getty Images

The Juice could be loose, again.

Via Andrew Blankstein and Daniella Silva of NBC News, Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson will have a parole hearing in July. He has served nine years of a 33-year sentence on charges arising from a bungled effort to reclaim memorabilia that he believed was stolen from him.

Some contend the Nevada justice system threw the book at Simpson due to the perception that he got away with a double murder in California, with the alleged killing of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ronald Goldman.

The key question regarding Simpson’s potential freedom will be whether and to what extent discretion may be exercised by the parole board. That discretion will allow anyone who thinks he should be serving life without parole for the 1994 killings to justify keeping him behind bars for more of that 33-year term.

Permalink 23 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Ameer Abdullah could be headed for a featured role in Detroit

Getty Images

The running back the Cardinals wanted to draft before drafting David Johnson may soon get a chance to have an impact similar to Arizona’s 2015 Plan B option.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah recently said he’d be better than any other option the team may bring in. They didn’t bring anyone in via free agency or the draft, which per the team’s official website has created the impression that Abdullah will have a featured role in 2017, his third NFL season.

The question is whether he can stay healthy. Abdullah finished his rookie season (with 16 appearances and 597 rushing yards) needing shoulder surgery. Last year, a Week Two foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.

Other options are Theo Riddick (who had 357 yards rushing in 2016), Zach Zenner (334 yards), and Dwayne Washington (265 yards). Collectively, the Lions generated 1,310 rushing yards (30th in the league), with an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

Permalink 3 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Nevada, NFL may be at odds over mobile betting at Raiders games

Getty Images

It won’t be easy for the NFL to keep gambling at arm’s length when the Raiders are playing in Las Vegas.

The latest example of that comes from the Nevada Gaming Commission, which plans to allow fans to place bets inside the Raiders’ new stadium, using mobile apps that are legal within Nevada state lines.

The NFL, of course, isn’t keen on that, and the Raiders’ lease in the stadium specifically prohibits “any Gaming or Gambling, the maintaining or operating of a Gaming Establishment and/or sports wagering or any wagering on racing or other non-sports events.” But Nevada Gaming Commission chairman Tony Alamo told ESPN that his commission, not the league’s lease with the stadium authority, would make the rules about where mobile betting is allowed.

“The NFL has not approached me for any policy decisions,” Alamo said. “The Nevada Gaming Commission is the policy maker for the state of Nevada and gaming, and they have not approached us in any shape, way or form.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN in the Raiders “are required to abide by League rules on the matter.” But do the Raiders have the authority to prevent people from betting on mobile apps if the Gaming Commission allows it? That’s one of many questions that is sure to come up as the anti-gambling NFL navigates the uncharted territory of playing in America’s gambling capital.

Permalink 25 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Chiefs sign Tourek Williams

Getty Images

The Chiefs got a look at linebacker Tourek Williams when he played for the Chargers and now they’ll be getting a closer view.

The NFL’s transaction wire brought word on Monday that the Chiefs have signed Williams to their 90-man roster. Linebacker Victor Ochi was waived in a corresponding move.

Williams was a sixth-round pick of the Chargers in 2013 and saw action in 44 games over the last three seasons, although a broken foot kept him off the field for the entire 2015 season. He played in every game last year and had 14 tackles and a sack while seeing more time on special teams than on defense.

Ochi played two games for the Jets last year and had two tackles.

Permalink 1 Comment Feed for comments Back to top

Aaron Donald not at OTAs as contract talks go on

Getty Images

The Rams exercised their option on defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s contract for the 2018 season, but General Manager Les Snead said that a lucrative, long-term contract extension was “definitely coming.”

Snead also said that “whether he gets a raise or not,” Donald would show up and “do the things he does.” That wasn’t the case on Monday, the first day of the team’s Organized Team Activities.

Donald was not at the team’s practice, which is voluntary, and coach Sean McVay declined to discuss the reason for his absence beyond saying it was not related to an injury. Steve Wyche of NFL Media reports that “all indications” are that Donald is staying away for contract reasons and General Manager Les Snead seemed to confirm that while also saying that a deal may not be far off.

“We’re at the serious stages of renegotiating,” Snead said, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very hopeful this will get done.”

If a deal does get done, Donald will move way up the list of best-paid defensive players in the game and could nudge Broncos linebacker Von Miller out of the top spot once pen is put to paper.

Permalink 8 Comments Feed for comments Back to top